Brushes with presidents

(Originally published Feb. 15, 2010)

Everett was just 10 years old when it played host to its first visit by an American president.

That Saturday afternoon — May 23, 1903 — tens of thousands of people flocked to the proud young mill town to catch a glimpse of Teddy R

oosevelt as he was paraded up Hewitt Avenue to deliver a speech on Colby Avenue.

It would be the first of many visits to Snohomish County by presidents or aspiring politicians who would later become president.

Over the years, Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have all set foot in the county. Others might have passed through as well, but local historians and political buffs weren’t able to find documentation.*

Today is Presidents Day, a federal holiday and a chance to explore nuggets of presidential history made in Snohomish County.

No visit drew as many people as Teddy Roosevelt’s stop. By some estimates the crowd numbered 35,000, more than triple the city’s population of the day.

Roosevelt arrived on the steamer Spokane in Everett and later waved to the throngs as he was driven up Hewitt Avenue. What was supposed to be a 10-minute speech turned into a 25-minute address.

Roosevelt played to the crowd, calling Everett “an astonishing new city,” praising the natural beauty of the region and saluting local veterans who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Among the crowd that day was an enterprising young paper boy named Max Miller, who ran along the president’s car as he was being driven up Hewitt.

“A lot of the waving was being done to me, then, but probably without Teddy Roosevelt realizing it,” wrote Miller, who became an author and recounted the big day in his book “Shinny Your Own Side and Other Memoirs of Growing Up.”

Through the eyes of a child, Miller recalled the president even waved to some mysterious women a local minister had condemned to hell for their profession. They were largely and purposely obscured behind a tall fence.

“I am sorry, though, that he could not see the ladies’ pretty colored dresses, but the fence was so high that it cut off everything except their faces mostly and their arms being waved.”

‘Happy as a telephone girl’

Taft visited Everett Oct. 9, 1911 in front of what was then the year-old Everett High School A Building. That same three-story, white-brick structure just celebrated its centennial in January.

The Everett Daily Herald set the scene for Taft’s appearance in its lead paragraph: “Decked in the colors of the country bunting everywhere, attired in her Sunday clothes, strictly on her good behavior, and happy as a telephone girl fishing olives from a long bottle with a hairpin, Everett today is host to the president of the United States.”

Taft met with the young students from Lincoln School, which was across Colby Avenue from Everett High School. The kids formed a patriotic red, white and blue shield, which earned praise from the president. Taft asked about the students what the colors represented.

“Our country,” the children roared.

“Would you be willing to die for your country?” Taft asked.

“Yes,” they declared, according to a newspaper account.

“That is splendid,” said the president, “but it is better that you live for your country.”

Truman visited Snohomish County at least four times — twice as president and twice earlier as a senator close to U.S. Sen. Mon Wallgren, a Democrat from Everett.

As president, Truman gave two short whistle-stop speeches from the back of a train in 1948 and 1952.

On his first trip, the Everett Chamber of Commerce gave Truman a fishing rod and reel. Four years later, nearing the end of his final term as president, Truman gave a short stump speech for Democratic presidential candidate Adalai Stevenson at the Great Northern yards at Everett’s Pacific Avenue.

Truman still remembered the fishing pole. “Next year, I’ll get a chance to use it,” he said.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican candidate who defeated Stevenson that fall, paid a visit to Everett five days after Truman in 1952. The amiable leader made points by pledging to fight “rising costs” of homes and other goods, such as lumber.

Nixon made an impression

Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s vice president, spent a Halloween Friday night at the Everett Civic Auditorium in 1958. He told the overflow crowd that “a weak (foreign) policy is a war policy and a firm policy is a peace policy.”

In the crowd was 16-year-old high school student Paul Elvig, who years later would become chairman of the Snohomish County Republican Party.

Fifty-one years later, Elvig still remembers the excitement he felt that night. What he recalls more than the speech was watching Nixon do some symbolic door-to-door campaigning around Everett High School afterward for local candidates.

“I have often thought about what those people were thinking when they opened the door, if they knew it was Richard Nixon or thought it was someone (in a mask) on Halloween,” he said.

Some visits had somber themes. In September of 1983, future President George Herbert Walker Bush came to Everett to mourn the death of U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

President Bill Clinton flew into Paine Field aboard Air Force One Feb. 23, 1993. The visit was part of a cross-country swing to sell his economic plan to the American people. He met privately with Boeing workers at a time of heavy layoffs.

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush was a frequent flier to Snohomish County in 2000.

In a six-month period, he campaigned in the county three times.

That May he declared his support for permanent normal trade status with China while at Boeing’s Everett plant with a nearly finished jet behind him. In August 2000, he stood across the pier where the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was docked and gave a defense speech on Everett’s waterfront.

A month later, he detailed a conservation initiative at Haskell Slough near the Skykomish River south of Monroe.

David Dilgard, a historian with the Everett library, said more presidential visits to the county could easily happen with Boeing serving as a prominent symbol of international trade.

Sometimes, he said, reasons might be less obvious and more personal, such as Truman’s friendship with Wallgren.

Some local history enthusiasts hope to some day add President Obama to the list of presidential visitors to Snohomish County.

Genealogy research in 2008 revealed his great-great-great-grandmother is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Everett. Rachel Wolfley’s grave marker was unearthed that October and her name was misspelled.

They need to get permission from Rachel Wolfley’s descendents, perhaps even Obama himself, to replace the grave marker for one with a correct spelling.

“Sometimes the reasons are subtle,” he said. “You just don’t know.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,

*Correction, Feb. 16, 2010: This article originally said documentation of a visit by Franklin D. Roosevelt could not be found, but local historians later confirmed that he visited Everett in 1937.

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